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Paulanne Simmons

"Raised in Captivity"Is a Big Step for a New Company


“Raised in Captivity”
Directed by Dominic d’Andrea
Red Fern Theatre Company
The Shell Theatre
Times Square Arts Center
300 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue
Opened Jan. 29, 2009
Thurs. thru Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
$18 (212) 352-3101
Closes Feb. 15, 2009
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 8, 2009


Jennifer Dorr White in "Raised in Captivity".

With its use of the surreal, AIDS as a metaphor for failed love, and a gay hero, Nicky Silver’s “Raised in Captivity” owes a great deal to Tony Kushner’s earlier “Angels in America.” But while Kushner’s work is certainly more ambitious, in many ways Silver’s work is more powerful.

Two-year-old Red Fern Theatre Company has made an excellent choice in staging the difficult but highly rewarding “Raised in Captivity” for its second show in its 2008-2009 season. The viciously and ironically funny play can survive with minimal set and costumes. All it needs is expert direction, which it has in Dominic D’Andrea, and a cast with great sensitivity and terrific timing.

“Raised in Captivity” examines the relationship and divergent life journeys of a set of twins who meet for the first time in a long time at the funeral of their mother, a woman whose unlikely death was caused by a flying shower head.

Sebastian (Josh Lefkowitz) is an unsuccessful writer whose last meaningful relationship ended eleven years ago when his lover died of AIDS. Bernadette (Emilie Elizabeth Miller) is a vacuous and unhappy wife whose main goal is making sure her life remains empty and comfortable.

After his mother’s funeral, Sebastian, realizing his therapy is not helping him, informs his therapist, Hillary (Jennifer Dorr White), that he is ending their sessions. His decision causes Hillary to go completely off her rocker. She becomes a homeless beggar and, in an effort to atone for her sins, begins a series of self-mutilations that leave her blind.

Sebatstian’s only stable relationship (of sorts) is with a convicted murderer named Dylan (Jose Joaquin Perez). The two men communicate via letters (which they read onstage) that reveal their search for meaning in their lives. Sebastian is also visited by the ghost of his mother (White) who explains the painful situation that led to her withdrawal of love.

L-R : Actors Bryant Mason and Emilie Elizabeth Miller in "Raised in Captivity".

Just when it seems that Silver will never be able to tie all these disparate ends together, Sebastian is almost killed by Rodger (Perez), a gay prostitute he invites into his home. Sebastian ends up at the hone of Bernadette and her dentist-turned-artist husband, Kip (Bryant Mason). There he spends all his time with Bernadette and Kip’s newborn child, refusing to go out or even get dressed.

What all these people have in common is their inability to connect, to feel and understand their pain and the pain of others, and their overwhelming guilt over this failure. Silver’s great talent lies in making these people pitiful, funny and sympathetic all at the same time.

The five actors in this production are all not only top-notch; they also seem to have a unforced ability to interact on stage in even the most outlandish scenes. White is especially adept at making insanity both funny (stumbling about the stage and addressing the air) and in some strange way sexy. Perez navigates effortlessly from the convicted killer to the would-be killer. He also slips from slyness to sincerity with remarkable believability.

Josh Lefkowitz and Jennifer Dorr White.

Lefkowitz, and Miller’s portrayal of the love/hate relationship so common between siblings never gets out of control, even when the script is at its most extreme. And Mason surprises everyone with his subtle emergence from staid dentist to fanatical and uncertain artist (he only paints in white because he is not sure of his skill).

Red Fern is a young company. With a few more shows like “Raised in Captivity” it may soon establish itself as one of the most promising up-and-coming additions to the New York theater scene.


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